Delores L. Walker, Free Press Reporter

In a statement released August 8 by Commissioner of Education Jim Horne he said Florida students are improving at three and four times the national average on national tests. But, even with these gains, many Florida schools did not make "adequate yearly progress" (AYP).

Horne said under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act the federal law requires states to evaluate the performance of students in all public schools in order to determine whether specific groups of students (such as ethnic minorities) made AYP.

In what could be seen as a paradox the results appear to contradict the findings released by Gov. Jeb Bush in June that graded more than half of Florida's public schools as "A" schools under his A+ Plan for Education. These findings were based on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and herald that this year was the biggest improvement in student achievement to date.

Like the A+ Plan, No Child Left Behind judges schools based on the FCAT but uses the results differently to compute whether a school meets the AYP.

Commissioner Horne said that the A+ Plan is like a report card, and No Child Left Behind is like the "comments" section on their report card. It is important to keep in mind that a school that does not make AYP has not failed. No Child Left Behind illustrates that even an "A" school has room for improvement said the Commissioner.

Superintendent Fred Ward recalled that Lafayette District Schools achieved a rating of B for LES and C for LHS in the 2002-2003 FCAT scores but Ward said the Lafayette schools did not meet the federal requirement to be on the passing list for NCLB.

Ward said NCLB points out specific subgroups that need improvement and does not allow for any subgroup to make the same score as they did last year. For example, if one group had 92 percent reading on grade level last year and 92 percent reading on grade level this year, then the school according to NCLB has not made adequate yearly progress.

"In fact, said Ward, if one subgroup fails to meet NCLB requirements it will prevent an entire school from making adequate yearly progress."

Under NCLB, if a school gets either a D or an F two years in a row, it's considered low-performing and its students are eligible to attend other public--not private--schools, if space exists.

Well and good, said Ward, unless you live in a county that has only one public school as Lafayette County and numerous other small rural counties across Florida.

Teachers and principals know parents look at school grades and they don't like to be tagged as doing a bad job at educating children. Educators do agree the original goal of NCLB, to ensure that low-achieving students don't fall through the cracks has merit, but many educators said the effect of accountability systems tends to label schools and educators.

Florida's benchmark for the 2002-2003 school year was that 31 percent of students score at or above grade level in math and 38 percent do so in reading. Those benchmarks will remain the same next year, increasing gradually for ten years, reaching 100 percent in 2013-2014.

Other states, such as Texas, lowered benchmarks or sought goals that would make their results appear better Horne said.

Gov. Bush said, "We are closing the achievement gap in our schools, and moving closer to our goal of every child reading at grade level by 2012. Our A+ Plan for education, backed by the new diagnostic view provided by NCLB standards, will help us get there."

Superintendent Ward said, "The information we received on subgroups that NCLB provides gives us an idea of which groups need more attention."

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